I Can Relate

I've made a new friend and I feel one of the reasons our paths have crossed is so that we can help each other learn to live with this monster named grief. Giving a voice to our feelings can only serve to help us move forward in our journey. When you grow weary, try to hear my voice. This is what my voice will say to you.
When you are struggling to get through those moments that happen, do you feel you brought it all upon yourself? What does that mean? Does it mean you allow yourself to cry, get upset, be sad, be depressed, be lonely instead of being strong every second of every day? You can't put that kind of pressure on yourself. You have a right to feel those feelings whenever they happen. Even if in your mind, it is at an inopportune time. If you try to stifle those feelings, I believe you will do more harm to yourself. Sometimes we feel it like a big lump, so big it seems it may choke us, but somehow we manage to swallow it. I know that sometimes we have to hold it back. But, we can't do that all the time and we can't berate ourselves for not being able to be stoic each second of each day.
I didn't live your life with your spouse so I'll never know exactly how you feel, but I can absolutely, positively relate to your loss. No one else can unless they've lost what we've lost. Each loss is different; losing your mom is different from losing your dad and on and on. Losing your spouse compares with nothing I've experienced or witnessed. I've lost my mom and my dad and I, at the age of thirteen, lost my brother and was witness to my mom's and my dad's grief. Through these losses, I felt I had gained some knowledge, had learned some survival skills, but I was mistaken.
No one knows how empty and lonely it is unless they've lost their spouse. No one knows how different the world becomes, some ways are subtle, and some ways smack you right in the face. No one knows or understands your lack of confidence, your self doubt in your decision making, in your judgment, in your foresight. No one knows the fear you have of the future and it seems just yesterday, you embraced tomorrow's potential, tomorrow's promises, tomorrow's possibilities. No one understands how every little thing you see, you smell, you hear, you touch, you taste reminds you that one you loved with all of your being is gone. No one understands how you can't get back to normal because you haven't yet defined your new normal and they don't understand that your old normal will never be again. No one knows how very surreal your everyday existence has become. What is this life that is now yours, is it possible for you to navigate it? No one knows how differently your heart beats, how differently you breathe the same old air, how when you look in the mirror the reflection is not of a person you know anymore. You are different, but only those who have experienced it can understand. No one knows how painful it is not to be embraced, not to be kissed, not to look into beautiful eyes and see love and respect staring back at you. No one knows how big and cold your bed becomes and how it feels to reach over, feel nothing there and think to yourself how awful it is to know what nothing feels like. No one knows how deafening the silence is. No one knows how it feels to have that same hour pass Monday through Friday when your loved one once walked through the door, so happy to be home with his family, so eager to learn about your day, so lovingly greeting you with a hug and a kiss and that look, the look that only came upon his face when he caught glimpse of you. No one understands just how much you miss your loved one's touch and the feelings it stirred within you. How you miss hearing him say your name and how his name seems to be the only thing you hear in your mind. No one knows how much you miss hearing his laughter. No one knows how you miss the simple pleasure of holding your loved one's hand. No one can understand how you don't look at the weekends with the same gleeful anticipation. No one knows how you feel when you think that you'll never get a Valentine's gift again or yellow roses on your anniversary, one for each year you were married, plus that one extra of a different color 'cause that was one of the ways he told you you stand out among the rest. No one knows what it feels like to know who is not on the phone when it rings. No one understands how it feels not to have that special someone to make happy and how you miss the joy of preparing his favorite meal, wearing the outfit he loved to see you in, leaving an I love you note in his briefcase or his medicine cabinet or under his pillow, coming up behind him when he was deeply concentrating on something and kissing his neck, sitting with him and enjoying another sports show on TV because at least you were together. No one knows how hard it is to walk through the men's department at Macy's and face the reality you face there. No one knows what it is like to go into his closet and remember each time he wore this and wore that and think, you know you've got to give away many of his things. You don't know when the time will come that you will have the strength to do it, for that will mean closing the door on another chapter and you so hate closing each of those doors. No one knows the dreams that will go unrealized, especially your dream of retirement together, your dream of growing old together, your anticipation of having the house back for just the two of you. No one knows how your heart breaks and rejoices, each at the same time when you experience a milestone with your child. No one knows how you pray every night that you continue to raise your child the same way you did with your spouse and how you hope you don't mess him up for you're not quite sure that you aren't messed up. No one knows how hard it is to go to bed each night, for it means another day has passed without your most favorite person in the world and you realize that time is not yet your friend. And you wonder, will it ever be your friend.
I know and I understand all of these things. I know and I understand these and more; as you know, there is much, much more.
We have loved and the bad moments are a result of that good and wonderful love. Maybe we need to step back and look at our lives as if from a distance. Maybe we'll see that we are accomplishing much more than we think and for which we are giving ourselves credit. Small accomplishments are better than no accomplishments and realizing that we don't have to accomplish something every single day is a step forward. All our lives we have cared for others and their feelings and their well being, but we don't invest the time in caring for ourselves. Now is the worst time for that. Even now, we sometimes are put in the position of worrying about and comforting others in their grief, foregoing our own. It is so very important for us to heal and we'll never heal if we don't give ourselves attention. I believe I am here to help you help yourself and you are here to help me help myself. And, in helping each other, we more than likely will find the tools we need to help ourselves. We shouldn't set ourselves up for failure by placing unreasonable expectations upon ourselves. After all, there comes a point when we really should listen to our own minds, our own hearts, as only we know what this truly feels like. Together, it is possible that we can help each other to have songs in our hearts again…one day.
Through all of this I still know I am blessed for I look for the blessings and I find them when I really look. I know I need to move from the darkness into the shadows and from the shadows I want to move into the light. I know there could be no darkness and there could be no shadows if there were no light. Blessings can be found in my trials and tribulations as well as in my jubilations; I just need to remember to look for them in all incidences of my life. And, if I forget everything else, I know I will remember that I was blessed the day my spouse decided I was the one with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life, and I am blessed because he did spend the rest of his life with me.
And further, I know I continue to be blessed because I've met you in this journey I didn't ask for, but is mine nonetheless. I extend my helping hand to you; please take it and know I'll hold on tightly when you feel you are slipping. I hope you'll do the same for me. And also know this, when the day comes that we too must part, for whatever the reason may be, I will say good-bye to you with gratitude that I met you. You and I will be forever connected because we understand the feelings encompassed in the familiar saying, It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.
I can relate to you.
Your new friend,
Branch
© 2002

This is a letter I wrote back in 2002, to a widow I met in a support group. She had sent me an email lamenting an especially hard day she was having and her feelings that sometimes she felt her struggles were self imposed.
I responded with this letter to let her know I could relate to her feelings. She said it helped her feel less alone and better able to work through that particularly difficult time.
The letter is shared here for those newly widowed, hoping it will help another feel less alone and better able to work through the difficult times. I”m so sorry for your loss. Through the internet support boards you visit, such as Grief”s Journey, I hope you will find comfort. I hope you will find strength. I hope you will find friendship and understanding. I hope you will find the tools you need to help you cope with your loss and manage your grief.
Even though this is a long letter, I hope you will read through it and come away with an understanding of my empathy for your despair.
Holding you in prayer and wishing you well in your journey.
Branch